Category Archives: adoption reunion

Dear Iowa: You Can’t Have it Both Ways

I’ve been blogging regularly on my Other Blog which is not to say that I do not frequently think of adoption and its myriad issues. I continue to see the world through the eyes of a birthmother, and those eyes popped wide open recently when I read THIS

I have some personal experience with Iowa’s bureaucracy regarding birth certificates. In 1990 when I began to search for the son I had given up for adoption 20 years earlier, I wrote several letters to the Iowa Department of Human services asking them to provide me with the original birth certificate for my son. While I knew the original birth certificate would provide no identifying information that would aid in my search, I viewed it an empowerment exercise. My son had been taken from me, and the evidence of that separation had been erased. Silenced for two decades by shame, I came out of my closet after the birth of my third child brought home to me the fact that my son could not be replaced. At the very least, I wanted the state of Iowa to acknowledge that the birth had taken place. I wanted the piece of paper that held my name and his–although he was listed as merely “baby boy.” It’s probably worth noting here that my son’s biological father’s name did not appear on the original birth certificate since I declined to identify him. Nevertheless, with my own name as the only identifying information, I could not obtain the original birth certificate.

On medication for glaucoma at the time and afflicted with a moderately severe case of scoliosis, I had my doctors intercede with the state of Iowa as we attempted to have my medical history passed on to my son. The only communication that I received stated that there were no records pertaining to my inquiries.

Until the recent Iowa Supreme decision confirming the rights of same sex couples to have both their names appear on their children’s birth certificates, The Iowa Department of Public Health insisted on listing the biological parents. While gay marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009, Iowa has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the union to allow gay marriage while refusing to list both spouses on the birth certificate. 

The irony of that, Iowa, is thicker than a cloud of mosquitos on a humid summer evening.

As a postscript, I’ll say that I hope the gay and lesbian couples who are now officially recognized as their children’s parents will not relegate their offspring to the blackout of information that many adult adoptees continue to endure in the state of Iowa.

Of course, there is this:
Effective July 1, 1999, Iowa law enables adoptees, their “birth parents,” and their blood-related brothers and sisters to find each other if the birth is registered with the State of Iowa. The “Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry” was established in order to match those persons requesting that their identity be revealed to registrants “matching” information concerning an adult adoptee. All information provided to the registry is confidential and revealed only in the event that an appropriate match is made and the parties have been notified of the match. A $25 fee in U.S. funds and a certified copy of the applicant?s birth certificate must be submitted with each consent application.

I’m trusting the instructions are a bit oversimplified. Surely, they don’t expect birthparents to supply a birth certificate……

Readers, have any of you out there used the Iowa Registry? Did reunions result? I’d love to hear about it.

photo credit:

My Family Tree Will Amaze You

Caveat re this post: Blogger and iPad are not a happily blended family. They are the Hatfields and the McCoys. I cannot get my links to post. Worse news: I will be in this deadzone of wirelesses for 2 more weeks. I will update this post upon my return to civilization.

There have been two articles in the New York Times recently that I found interesting, given my perspective as a birthmother. The first, which opens with the example of a pair of sisters, one who served as an egg donor for the other’s pregnancy, explores the question of the the child’s multifaceted placement on the family tree. Biologically, she is the daughter of her aunt. In the conventional familial sense, she is the daughter of the mother (the “aunt’s” sister) who is raising her as her own. This complexity is nothing new to a birthmother.

I gave up my son when I was seventeen, but I never stopped thinking of him as my son. While few people in my life knew of his existence until two decades after his birth, and I never spoke of him during those bleak pre-reunion decades, in my own internal monologue the only word I had to describe him was, “son.” Now, at a point in our personal history, when we will soon be reunited for as long as we were apart, I still refer to him simply as, “my son” though I fully acknowledge that I am not the only woman who claims him as such. There is no word in the English language that means, “son who I gave to adoptive parents,later re-united with, and now have a happy relationship with.” It’s probably just as well since the nuances of every birthmother’s story are different. Some might make a case for the term, “birthson,” but it seems awkward to me–a dichotomy perhaps since I am not loathe to employ the much debated term, “birthmother.” To me the difference lies in the fact that my son has two mothers–the mother who raised him and me, while all along, there has been only one of him.

It’s my hope that highly visible articles about these differently formed families make birthparent reunions more acceptable and less often construed as the skeleton in the closet, but in order to accomplish that we need teachers more adventurous and open-minded than the one quoted in the article. If we are not ready to have conversations about egg and sperm donors, about birthmothers and birth fathers, I believe we are doing a disservice to the child. Want the child, but not his or her genetic history? It seems dishonest to me. Why not open our arms to all of it?

I’ve written about my own complicated blended family here: I am happy to explain it to anyone who has an hour and a whiteboard and several colored markers. I grew up loving all my siblings, and none of them seemed any less lovable to me. When I was a little kid, I was confused about us a bit, but once I got it, I loved my family even more.

As for that second New York Times article, check back. It deserves a blog post all it’s own.


I couldn’t remember the name of the movie I wanted us to see. “Is it Untangled?” I asked. “Tangled,” my daughters, said. We all went. Daughters and I, the son and his wife and kids.

I remembered the fairy-tale read by my mother at bedtime, the incantation echoing in the dark long after she’d kissed me good-night. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair that I may climb the golden stair. Back then it was the blond hair that filled my dreams. Something I would never have.

“What did you think of the movie?” my son asked when we were back in his kitchen getting ready for our own fairy-tale activity of building a gingerbread house. “To me, it was a movie about adoption,” I said.
“A lot of fairy tales are about that,” he said.

Our adoption story has untangled itself.  A fairy tale ending. The life we live is as sweet as this.


In a few days, I will receive a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.  It’s a big milestone for me and I happen to like celebrating milestones very much.
I wasn’t there when my son got his first tooth, went off to kindergarten, finished grade school or graduated from high school. I missed the first 21 years of his life. All of it.
But here’s the thing about reunion–important things continue to happen and we’ve been there for each other.
Each year that goes by, that list will grow longer.

Holding Cory

I got another essay published last week. And to make it even sweeter, my friend Elizabeth Aquino has a piece in the same issue.
Elizabeth’s piece is titled, Thoughts on a Picture of Sophie in a Silver Frame. She’s a wonderful writer with a fabulous blog–
My piece is called Holding Cory.

Adoptive Parents Read This: You Might Be at the Top of the Triangle

When I think about how the past 18 years of reunion have gone with my son and the hows and whys of all of it, I can’t help but think about his parents (his adoptive parents.) Especially his mother. She had lost a child herself, and I think because of this experience, was able to understand what I had lost. In our correspondence through letters and in person, in all these years she has never once been negative toward me, any aspect of the reunion process, or post-reunion life. The last two years, we’ve been at the same Thanksgiving table.

If there are any adoptive parents who stumble onto this blog, I encourage you to imagine yourself sitting at the top of the triangle. Imagine your arms and hands stretching downward. See the strength in connecting all of us.

Why I’m an Idiot–But There’s Really No Excuse

A few posts ago, I wrote about reunion vis a vis the California Adoption Bill (Assembly Bill 372.) Yay, I thought, more birthparents and adoptees will be reunited. I think I got an email from some nefarious person or organization touting what a good idea this was and that only encouraged my naive stupidity. There was a clause in the bill (now in some lucky legislative limbo) that required birthparent consent, which is a huge impediment to open records. The bill was a trick. A ploy to get in the way of open records.

I’m in the middle of a divorce, writing the thesis for my MFA, trying to rise out of the ashes once again and my brain is somewhat broken.


The world is full of adoptees and birthmothers, some reunited and many still unknown to one another. There are siblings out there, too. Some of whom dream of having a brother or a sister and don’t know that they already have one. And maybe that person they’re wishing for has the same brown eyes or the same dimple or a similar set of freckles or loves the same kind of chocolate or drives the same car. I’ve seen statistics that say there are somewhere between two million and six million birthmothers alive today in the U.S. Probably no one knows how many are reunited with their children. If you consider the siblings that have been separated by adoption, there are millions of people out there looking for each other.

Here’s a story where two siblings found one another by chance.
I dreamed of finding my son by chance almost from the moment I let him go. And although, coincidence has salted a pretty healthy dash of “you must be kidding” to our story, I don’t think we would have ever found one another if I hadn’t searched for him. Searching for my son, due to the sealed records in the state of Iowa, was a frustrating and useless venture. But Chance was there all the same waiting in the form of a person who’d happened to hear of a person, who knew of a person who could help. I have no idea who that person was–if it was a man or a woman, an adoptee or a birthparent, maybe even an adoptive parent–but if I had to give the person a name, I’d call him/her Mr. or Ms. Chance.

Nibble Nibble at My House

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of family and the effort and grace it takes to keep love in tact.  My first experience at creating my own family was an utter failure and it was 21 years until I saw my first-born child.  There were 20 Christmases, 2o Thanksgivings and  20 birthdays before I knew my son’s name or where he lived.  Our reunion reverberated through his adoptive family and through my own new family with a husband and 2 little girls, yet somehow we made ourselves a new family without damaging the roofs that already sheltered us.

All of my children are adults now, and in the aftermath of my divorce from my daughters’ father, I think about family life as bricks and stones that need regular shoring up to keep the walls from falling down.  In our case, a lot of travel is required–this holiday involves travel across a desert and an ocean for my youngest child and myself and every mile is part of the path that leads us to the sweetness of hearth and home.
As I lay on the couch at my son’s house with my oldest grandchild–just the two of us singing Christmas carols in the dark beside the lighted Christmas tree–I noticed how our voices blended together and thought, for just a moment in the midst of that joy, about the birthmothers who not only don’t know their children, but whose grandchildren are also lost to them.